Sean Erenstoft discusses victim advocacy as a method by which attorney should satisfy pro bono obligations on behalf of our communities.
Attorney’s are encouraged to take-on at least 50 hours of pro-bono work each year and I’ve discovered a rewarding way to fulfill it. Victim advocacy is a critical part of the criminal justice system and thanks to the “victim’s rights” movement in California, crime victims can now get the help they need.
As a former prosecutor, pro-temp judge, and criminal defense attorney, I was uniquely adept at navigating the maze of advocacy available to victims of crime. However, following California’s passage of “Marcy’s Law,” also known as the “Victim’s Bill of Rights” in November, 2008 the process got easier. Passed in honor of murdered college student Marcy Nicholas, Marcy’s Law amended Article I, Section 28 of the California Constitution to strengthen the rights of crime victims.
A crime victim advocate:
- Makes sure the victim does not “fall through the cracks”
- Educates the victim about the “victims’ bill of rights”
- Helps the victim figure out the court process and what is happening
- Helps the victim get restitution
- Speaks up for the victim in court at a California sentencing hearing ,
- Makes sure the prosecutor is listening to the victim
- Makes sure the victim is protected from the defendant
- Makes sure the victim gets access to all available services
Crime victims have a right to restitution. When a defendant is convicted and sentenced for committing a crime, the judge will order the defendant to compensate the victim for financial losses associated with a crime.
The Victims’ Bill of Rights provides crime victims with the right:
(1) To be treated with fairness and respect for his or her privacy and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse, throughout the criminal or juvenile justice process.
(2) To be reasonably protected from the defendant and persons acting on behalf of the defendant.
(3) To have the safety of the victim and the victim’s family considered in fixing the amount of bail and release conditions for the defendant.
(4) To prevent the disclosure of confidential information or records to the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, or any other person acting on behalf of the defendant, which could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family or which disclose confidential communications made in the course of medical or counseling treatment, or which are otherwise privileged or confidential by law.
(5) To refuse an interview, deposition, or discovery request by the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, or any other person acting on behalf of the defendant, and to set reasonable conditions on the conduct of any such interview to which the victim consents.
(6) To reasonable notice of and to reasonably confer with the prosecuting agency, upon request, regarding, the arrest of the defendant if known by the prosecutor, the charges filed, the determination whether to extradite the defendant, and, upon request, to be notified of and informed before any pretrial disposition of the case.
(7) To reasonable notice of all public proceedings, including delinquency proceedings, upon request, at which the defendant and the prosecutor are entitled to be present and of all parole or other post-conviction release proceedings, and to be present at all such proceedings.
(8) To be heard, upon request, at any proceeding, including any delinquency proceeding, involving a post-arrest release decision, plea, sentencing, post-conviction release decision, or any proceeding in which a right of the victim is at issue.
(9) To a speedy trial and a prompt and final conclusion of the case and any related post-judgment proceedings.
(10) To provide information to a probation department official conducting a pre-sentence investigation concerning the impact of the offense on the victim and the victim’s family and any sentencing recommendations before the sentencing of the defendant.
(11) To receive, upon request, the pre-sentence report when available to the defendant, except for those portions made confidential by law.
(12) To be informed, upon request, of the conviction, sentence, place and time of incarceration, or other disposition of the defendant, the scheduled release date of the defendant, and the release of or the escape by the defendant from custody.
(13) To restitution.
(14) To the prompt return of property when no longer needed as evidence.
(15) To be informed of all parole procedures, to participate in the parole process, to provide information to the parole authority to be considered before the parole of the offender, and to be notified, upon request, of the parole or other release of the offender.
(16) To have the safety of the victim, the victim’s family, and the general public considered before any parole or other post-judgment release decision is made.
(17) To be informed of these rights.
While non-attorneys can obtain advanced training to become a victim’s advocate, attorneys need only contact their local City Attorney’s office or the county District Attorney’s office to inquire. (See links below). Prosecuting bodies, while not literally a victim’s attorney, do provide basic assistance in victim advocacy. However, these offices will provide volunteer attorneys with all the information you require to assist your fellow citizen. In some cases, I was able to get compensated for my services; and many attorneys translate their volunteerism into a full-time employment. After I tapered my services off to tackle other volunteerism, I received random calls from prior victims and their families seeking personal injury advice which lead to contingency-fee based representation.
Whoever said “what goes around comes around” was right!